Since I moved from Texas to New York, I no longer have the luxury of asking my mom to make me a dozen curry puffs (or epok epok) whenever a craving hits. Because her father forbade her from going to school, she never learned to read or write in Malay or English, which means her recipes have never been recorded. Earlier this year, I called my mom for guidance on how to prepare her rendition of the savory snack. She quickly rattled off a list of ingredients with vague measurements like “half a bag of the big bag of flour” and “a sack of potatoes, but it’s up to you how much you want so if you want more, add more!” After about an hour of patience (on both our parts), we finally came up with a promising blueprint.
Curry puffs are best when fried to order. They can be shaped and stored in the refrigerator the day before you plan on serving them. When you’re ready to serve, all that’s left is deep-frying. I recommend getting creative with dipping sauces. My favorite is sambal oelek, a Malay or Indonesian spicy red chile paste, mixed with lime achar, an Indian lime pickle (my mom finds that strange, so use your own taste buds to guide you).
- To make the filling: Bring a medium-size pot of water to boil over high heat. Add the potatoes and continue to boil them for 10 minutes or until they feel a bit tender but no longer raw. Drain the potatoes in a colander and allow them to cool. Once they're cool enough to handle, peel and cut them into small cubes. Set aside.
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the ground beef until it has turned brown. Drain the fat from the beef and transfer the beef to a bowl. Set aside.
- Add the garlic, ginger, and red onion to the bowl of a food processor and process until blended into a chunky paste. Set aside.
- Heat the vegetable oil and ghee (or an additional 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil if you're making vegan puffs) in a skillet over medium heat. Add the curry leaves and sauté them for 2 minutes or until they're lightly browned. Using a colander, drain the oil into a small bowl, discarding the leaves. Return the oil to the skillet, and add the curry powder and garlic, ginger, and red onion mixture. Sauté for 3 minutes or until brown. Add the cubed potatoes and stir to coat them with the spices. Cook until the potatoes soften, about 5 to 7 minutes, then add the ground beef and stir to combine.
- Pour the water into the skillet and generously season the filling with salt. Remove the skillet from the heat and transfer the filling to a bowl to allow it to cool.
- To make the crust: Combine the salt and cold water in a measuring cup and stir until the salt dissolves.
- Measure the flour into a large bowl. Gradually add the salt water, mixing it into the flour with your hands. Add the melted ghee or margarine, mixing it in with your hands. If the dough feels too wet, add more flour. The dough should be soft but not sticky.
- Knead the dough in the bowl or on a clean, lightly floured surface until it's smooth. Divide the dough into equally portioned golf ball-sized balls and place them on a baking sheet. Cover them with cling wrap and allow the dough to rest for 15 minutes.
- To form the curry puffs: On a clean, lightly floured surface, flatten each dough ball with a rolling pin until it's about 4 to 5 inches in diameter. Flattened dough circles should be about 4 to 5 inches in diameter. Make sure it’s not too thin, or else the filling will burst out while you’re forming the puffs. If it shrinks, spread it out gently with your fingers.
- Place about 1½ to 2 tablespoons of filling into the center of the flattened dough. Fold the dough over the filling into a semicircle and seal it by pinching, folding, and crimping the edges. Alternatively, for a quicker and easier method, you can seal and crimp them by pressing the edges with a fork. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.
- To fry the curry puffs: Heat about 1 inch of vegetable oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and line a metal strainer with paper towels. Carefully lower the curry puffs, 4 at a time, into the hot oil. Fry them over medium heat, turning once, for 3 to 4 minutes, or until they turn golden brown. Remove to the metal strainer and drain.
Natalie Pattillo is a multimedia journalist based in New York City.